As is my tradition for Oscar week, I write my own list of the top ten best films of the given year. Since some of these choices might be unconventional, I will say upfront that I have seen over 100 movies from 2012 including all nine best picture films. So if the list looks weird, it isn’t because I only see bad movies, it is because I have bad taste.
Please note that I chose not to include documentaries on this list.
10. Hope Springs
David Frenkel, the director of The Devil Wears Prada, helms a picture starring two of the greatest living actors, Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep. Of course it was going to be great. Telling the story of an older(ish) couple who goes to a small town in Maine to get marriage counseling (the therapist is played by Steve Carell), this picture is truly inspiring. Sure it has its flaws--Streep’s character seems a little too perfect when compared to the grump Jones one--but nevertheless this funny, genuine, entertaining, and heartfelt dramedy is absolutely stellar.
I love the new trend of having modern movies incorporating elements of the old silent films. We’ve had Wall-E, The Artist, and now this under-seen gem from India. This story is about a young man (Ranbir Kapoor, who is on par with Hollywood’s very best) that is deaf. He misunderstands his name of “Murphy” to be “Barfi!,” resulting in this bizarre and difficult to market title. Barfi! is caught up in a romance with a woman betrothed to a man she has barely met and he ends up becoming friends with an autistic girl he kidnaps for ransom money. This is a delightful, entertaining, and inspiring tale about embracing life to its fullest, and one that any age can enjoy.
It always looked funny, but who would have thought this R-rated comedy about a hockey enforcer, who’s job is to start fights on the ice rink, would be so good? Sean William Scott plays the title goon, and this ends up being an inspiring tale of the importance of loyalty and finding oneself, all centered around brutally violent fist-fights. It doesn’t shy away from showing the dark side and long-term consequences of this highly controversial topic, but at the same time it never ceases to be laugh-out-loud funny. Also, the film’s antagonist, a veteran enforcer played by Liev Schreiber, is a truly unforgettable character.
This animated movie takes favorite childhood heroes like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Jack Frost and puts them into an action extravaganza in the vein of (though much superior to) The Avengers. It is wildly entertaining, due to the action, the humor, the constantly inventive and mind-blowingly gorgeous visuals, and the truly emotional story. This tackles the powers of dreams, hope, and faith, and gives answers that even adults can relate to. The studio might be Dreamworks, but this is Pixar-level quality.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Guardians is Dredd, a gory, dark, gritty, futuristic sci-fi comic book movie that isn’t afraid that isn’t afraid to alienate a few viewers to tell an original and entertaining story. In Dredd, the world has become one giant, dystopian, crime ridden city and the only forces of justice are Judges, which have the duties of cop, judge, jury, and executioner. Chief among them is Judge Dredd, who’s unwavering commitment to the law seems extreme in our time and is probably unheard of in this future. The action scenes are fantastic, the movie has a great sense of humor about it, and it isn’t afraid to get into some bigger issues (if more people had seen this movie, it would be considered controversial). In a time filled with morally ambiguous and anarchistic pretty boy heroes, Dredd gives us a morally absolute protagonist who isn’t afraid to judge.
Footnote: Don’t judge this movie because it shares the same source material with 1990’s Judge Dredd. It is a completely different type of film.
This heartfelt, utterly charming picture tells the story of three reporters (the main one being played by Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation) who go to a small town to investigate an add left by a man requesting a partner to time travel with him. The man (played by Mark Duplass, in a rare turn acting without writing or directing) turns out to be deadly earnest and possibly insane, but he and the Plaza character end up starting an odd romance.
It is funny, but it never forgets us to make us feel for the characters. Everyone in this movie is flawed but instantly likeable (particularly interesting is a loud-mouthed, possibly racist, but impossible to hate reporter played by Jake Johnson), and it is difficult not to be entertained every minute. This is a touching look at taking the ultimate risk of friendship.
A movie doesn’t have to be dark and gritty to be great. MIB3 is funny, action-packed, inventive, and perfectly acted (I would give Josh Brolin the Best Supporting Actor award); best of all, though, is that it has heart.
This story centers around Agent J (Will Smith)--an agent of the Men in Black organization that keeps Earth safe from extra-terrestrial threats--going back in time to the 60s in order to stop an alien invasion led by a sinister new bad guy (Jemaine Clement’s Boris the Animal). There he finds out the dark secret that has haunted his partner (played by Tommy Lee Jones in current day and Brolin in the 60s universe). This film is just as clever as the other installments in the action-comedy series, but in addition it also captures the sense of wonder and appreciation for the vastness of the universe even better than its predecessors had.
This is another one from the Duplass Brothers (Cyrus): They produced, wrote, and directed, but didn’t star (Mark Duplass does acting, such as in Safety Not Guaranteed, but he chose not to here). The duo has always shown great talent, but this film is a near-masterpiece. Starring Jason Segel as a 30-something stoner living in his mother’s basement who bases his entire life around the philosophy of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, Jeff features a great cast including Susan Sarandon, Ed Helms, and Judy Greer (Helms has a very sizable role as the Segal character’s neurotic brother, so much so that it could be considered a lead). The plot synopsis might sound like it is a little cynical, but it is really a pretty sweet film that should appeal to a large audience. It walks the line between comedy and drama perfectly, and has a genuine quality to it that you don’t see very often in movies. Also more-so than in most other films, Jeff has a truly powerful, inspiring message on faith, hope, and initiative. This should go on everyone’s must-see list.
This excellent story on the passage of the amendment banning slavery in America is truly incredible. Steven Spielberg rarely directs a movie that isn’t excellent (executive producing is another story) and here he is adapting an award-worthy screenplay from Munich scribe Tony Kushner. Every member of the cast is phenomenal; Daniel Day Lewis's work as Abraham Lincoln is one of those rare performances that practically everyone seems to agree was the year’s best. In my review, I wrote about how this film provides a convincing argument on how democracy works. What I may have neglected to emphasize is how this also provides personal statements on compromise and determination. Such is the case with a truly great movie: There are so many amazing things about it you can spend a whole two pages talking about only a small part. Regardless of what country you live in, this is a picture you can’t miss.
1. Being Flynn
I am baffled at why this movie didn’t get more praise. My best guess is simply that not enough people watched it: This is filmmaking at its best.
Being Flynn tells the story of a man (Paul Dano) volunteering at a homeless shelter who finds his alcoholic father (Robert De Niro) to be a resident. The father’s life is getting worse and worse, but he keeps insisting he is a writing genius, on par with Mark Twain. This is a very dark drama (written and directed by About a Boy’s Paul Weitz), but the emotional pay-off is something you rarely get from a film. This movie has powerful messages on perseverance, how we interpret the past, what makes a life successful, and how we should view ourselves.
I welcome comments, even negative ones. And please, please provide links to your own top ten of 2012 lists.